Caffeine is a substance known for its effect on energy and alertness. Less well known is the difference between naturally occurring caffeine and more synthetic options. What are the benefits of consuming naturally occurring versus synthetic caffeine? Are there any limitations or negative consequence to consuming naturally occurring caffeine? These questions are answered in this blog.
Natural caffeine is extracted from plants and found in more than 60 species across the globe. The most commonly known sources are tea leaves, coffee beans, cacao beans, and guarana berries. Lesser well-known sources include Kola nuts, Yerba mate, bark of Yoco, and yaupon holly. These natural sources of caffeine date back to centuries ago and remain popular in many cultures to this day. These natural sources of caffeine can be found in coffee, teas, or even supplements. Regarding supplements, it is important to look for the amount of caffeine and its source on the label, and to be aware of what and how much you are consuming.
Unlike natural caffeine, synthetic caffeine is usually produced from urea and chloroacetic acid rather than from extracted plant products. The FDA regulates added synthetic caffeine in 5 categories of products: food, beverages, energy drinks, dietary supplements, and over-the-counter drugs.
But there is misinformation when it comes to the differences between synthetic caffeine and caffeine derived from plant sources. Scientific research indicates that the final product and the stimulating effect on the body are surprisingly similar between synthetic and natural caffeine; in fact, both are chemically identical. However, the benefits of natural caffeine tend to outweigh synthetic caffeine.
Natural vs. Synthetic Caffeine
Natural caffeine is naturally sourced and contains no additives, making it a safer option than its chemical counterpart.
Synthetic caffeine is used in products at higher amounts, since the ability to control and manipulate synthetic caffeine content is easier than doing so with natural caffeine. Because of this, synthetic caffeine products tend to increase the likelihood of lingering side effects from high doses of caffeine, including shakiness, fast heart rate, restlessness, and headaches. When consuming natural caffeine sources, you know how much you are drinking or taking, because the amount cannot be manipulated by scientists.
Benefits of Natural Caffeine
There are many benefits to consuming natural caffeine on a regular basis – benefits that have been studied and clinically proven as significant:
- Boosts energy levels – The most widely known effect of natural caffeine is its ability to energize people, which helps improve mood, increases alertness, and lowers levels of self-reported fatigue.
- Increases metabolic rate – Consuming the amount of natural caffeine in a single cup of coffee has been linked to a 3-4% increase in metabolic rate.
- Improves exercise performance – A reduction in fatigue helps you exercise more efficiently and helps improve athletic performance, making exercise feel “less difficult.”
- May improve heart health – Natural caffeine is associated with an increased heart rate, and taken in moderate amounts, may reduce the risk for heart disease.
The Bottom Line
Natural caffeine is safer than synthetic caffeine in that it is derived from natural plant-based sources instead of created in a lab, and it makes it clear how much caffeine you are consuming. As outlined above, there are many benefits to consuming caffeine daily. But any caffeine, even natural caffeine, can pose potential risks depending on your health – making it important to speak with your doctor about how much caffeine you are drinking or consuming each day.
- Scott et al. “Synthetic Caffeine.” Science Vol. 105, Issue 2720 (176). 14, Feb 1947. DOI: 10.1126/science.105.2720.176.a
- Spilling the beans: How much caffeine is too much. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/spilling-beans-how-much-caffeine-too-much. Accessed Oct 20, 2022.
- Bordeaux B. Benefits and risks of caffeine and caffeinated beverages. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Oct 20, 2022.
- Pure and highly concentrated caffeine. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/food/dietary-supplement-products-ingredients/pure-and-highly-concentrated-caffeine. Accessed Oct 20, 2022.